Indigenous childcare service fights for survival

July 27, 2007

Yappera Children's Services Co-operative, an Indigenous childcare and pre-school centre in Thornbury, faces closure due to the state and federal governments' refusal to provide the $150,000 required for essential plumbing repairs.

Yappera is one of five multi-functional Aboriginal children's services in Victoria. Yappera means "belonging place" and promotes a philosophy of strengthening culture.

It began as a childcare centre in 1980 in Fitzroy, where there was a high concentration of Aboriginal families who couldn't afford other childcare centres' fees. It later moved to Thornbury, with the addition of a pre-school, on land behind the Aborigines Advancement League premises.

Yappera is run by an all-Indigenous committee of management and most of the staff are Indigenous. It promotes Indigenous children's right to a positive, culturally informed Indigenous identity, taking children on bush excursions and teaching them how to handle racial taunts, for example.

Previous coordinator Donna Wright said: "It was important that our preschool program gave the children a sense of pride in their identity. We wanted to make sure that when they went out into the community they felt good about themselves."

Yappera provides a broad range of services, such as speech pathology, dental care, immunisation, and eye and ear tests, as part of its philosophy of strengthening culture. Its vision also includes parents, by offering education programs after hours, and housing, health and neonatal care referrals, for example.

Yappera plays an important role in encouraging Indigenous families' take-up of government-funded childcare. Access to early childhood education and care provides young children, particularly those from low-income and second-language groups, with a good start in life.

Census data shows that while the number of Aboriginal children aged 0 to five years is increasing, the number of preschool places is not growing in proportion. According to the 2004 government report Learning to Work, "Aboriginal children are poorly represented in the preschool sector at local, state and national levels".

In response to the federal government's last budget, Early Childhood Australia called for increased funding to ensure the expansion and ongoing viability of Indigenous-focused childcare services. The Secretariat of National Aboriginal and Islander Child Care, a national, non-government organisation, has identified improved access to such services as key to ending violence and abuse.

Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency chief executive Muriel Bamblett said Yappera was a "brilliant" service. "This is a model that works well for Aboriginal families in Victoria and the government needs to look at how it can provide more funding."

These current plumbing problems at Yappera, which is built on an old rubbish tip, follow a termite infestation in 2005 that forced the centre's closure for fumigation after the infestation destroyed a wall. The repairs cost Yappera $11,000, money that had been allocated to renovate an outdoor play area.

Current manager Stacey Brown said the broken sewerage pipes needed immediate attention. "The kinder toilets are out of action and the whole sewerage system could go at any time. We don't know how long it will last." Brown added that existing funding barely covered running costs and the centre would have no choice but to close once the system broke down. Brown said despite talks at all levels of government there has been no commitment of extra funding.

The Howard government's abolition of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission in 2004 exacerbated Yappera's problems by removing its funding security. The service now relies on short-term federal government funding and an occasional state government grant.

Yappera faces the prospect of becoming the next casualty in successive governments' neglect of an essential service for ndigenous Australians.

Green Left Weekly and Yappera are holding an Indigenous rights benefit gig at the Retreat Hotel in Brunswick on August 11. For more information, phone (03) 9639 8622 or 0406 316 559.

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